There has been a huge upsurge in the number of people who represent themselves in their divorce and other family law cases. Those other types of Family Law cases include paternity, domestic violence, dissolution of domestic partnership, annulment and custody cases. In some California jurisdictions, 80% of the filings have at least one person who is representing themselves. To help the courts handle so many people unfamiliar with the legal system, the courts, other state agencies and some non-profit agencies have established programs to help the DIY (Do It Yourself) litigants. This article will be the first of two to refer you to those resources for California family law cases. If you must file in another state, check your state court web site, that of your state bar association and visit your local law library. You will find similar information for your state there.
The web site for the California courts is a great source of information. Remember, though, that all of the government sites provide only general information, not legal advice on how to best present your particular case and that the information is available to both sides. Keeping this proviso in mind, the official sites can be very helpful.
The court web site offers all of the forms that are used in California. They can be viewed, printed and often may also be filled out electronically before they are printed. The site has a drop down menu which groups the forms by topics. In the "self help" section, there are some articles which tell you what forms you need specifically for different purposes, but not for all. There are many on-line businesses which also offer the forms and help you fill out the correct ones. However, they have their limitations. Besides charging money, they do not provide legal advice on what is best for you to say in your individual case. Also, they often limit their services to uncontested cases, those in which everything is settled, in which there are no disputes. If that is your case and you are willing to spend around $300 in addition to the court costs, use one of them. If there is a dispute or you don't want to spend the money, there are other alternatives. A paragraph on the court web site reads:
Going to Court Without a Lawyer? Need Help? The California Courts Self-Help Center can help you find the right forms - and provide other assistance with your case.
THE COURT'S SELF HELP CENTER
The court's web site is at http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov. The self help center at that site has more resources than I can list here. There is a section on Links and Resources which offers dozens of pamphlets and videos on the family law court experience including how to choose the right forms, what to do with them, how to prepare the domestic violence paperwork, what to do if you are served with that paperwork, what the child support and custody mediation processes are like, and more. There is a section on Free and Low Cost Help which can't give specific referrals, but which points you in the right direction. There are sections on Getting Ready for Court and on the court fees. Spend time here and you'll come away with a good idea on how to proceed.
FAMILY LAW FACILITATOR: http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp/lowcost/
Every California family law court has an office of the family law facilitator connected to it. Their function is to help the do it yourself, self represented client get through the court process. They help you fill out the forms, though again, without giving legal advice, and tell you how to file and serve them. Since the service is free and, given the state's budget crisis, there may be a wait to get help. So long as you remember that their service is neutral, that it supports neither your side nor the other, that they can also help the other side, and that you don't expect direction on the substance of your case, the facilitators are very useful.
Family law lawyers are just beginning to realize that many people either can't afford to, or simply don't want to retain them. People now often simply want to use an attorney as a resource to provide the legal advice that the state services cannot. Legal support, rather than legal control, is a new form of service that is just beginning to appear.